I was crawling through Sandia Man Cave east of Albuquerque, a series of holes and tunnels in the Sandia Mountains where primitive people were thought to have lived thousands of years ago. Primitive people apparently weren’t all that picky about where they took shelter. There were very few places where a 6′1″ person could stand up, mostly we had to crawl on our hands and knees. But there were a few places deep, deep in the mountain in solid rock where you couldn’t even crawl. You had to put your arms out in front of you to make yourself as skinny as you could get and put your arms then your head then your torso through a very small opening and push yourself through with your feet until you could grab something and pull the rest of yourself through with your hands and arms.
In one of these spots the guy ahead of me with the flashlight turned it off to see just how dark it was. That deep in a sold rock mountain it is very dark. It is all the way dark. The optical noise inherent in your retina is way brighter than anything you can see in front of you. I was lying there with my arms out in front and trying to push with my feet but not finding much to push against. my stomach was against the rock floor and the top of the hole I was trying to skinny through was touching my back. For a moment I thought I was stuck. That is the closest I’ve come to having a true panic attack. Stuck hundreds of feet inside this mountain sandwiched between solid rock surfaces in abject darkness wondering if I could get through or if I would be stuck there forever like the skeletons archaeologists had found there years ago.
It didn’t turn out to be a very well founded panic attack. There was, after all, someone ahead of me and someone behind who would have gotten me out one way or another had it come to that. My brother also observed, when I told of my panic attack on the way home, that even if I’d been alone and actually stuck, after a day or two without food or water I would lose enough weight to slide out easily. Even so, that one moment where I thought, “I’m stuck!” was as scared as I’ve ever been. I felt fear in every cell of my body at once like I never had before and haven’t since even in more realistically life threatening circumstances. So there.